- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A year after leaders in northern Kentucky formed a task force to battle the growing heroin problem, they are setting their sights on the next phase.

The Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force gathered in Covington earlier this week to reflect on the year’s successes. But the business leaders, law enforcement officers and health care workers who make up the group know they have a long way to go.

The group’s efforts have inspired 17 free overdose-prevention clinics, providing 129 free kits containing a life-saving drug, naloxone, The Kentucky Enquirer reported (http://cin.ci/1wOnXfW). The group has recorded five rescues, including a 15-year-old boy who overdosed on heroin on his birthday.

They’ve created a program for addicted pregnant women and infants, and a treatment clinic is expected to open at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in 2015. And the group has also been active on social media and held 25 town hall meetings.

But heroin use continues to rise in the region, as evidenced by soaring cases of Hepatitis C from intravenous drug use and increasing seizures of heroin by police.

“We must work toward stabilizing, improving the function and reducing trauma for those addicted to heroin,” said Dr. Jeremy Engel, a St. Elizabeth family physician who spurred creation of the task force. “We need full commitment from every organization, medical, political, government, as well as judicial and legal to be able to overcome this epidemic. If we had that, we would move ahead rapidly.”

Among the latest efforts is more widespread availability of naloxone, which restores breathing in overdosing heroin or prescription painkiller users, and needle-resistant gloves for police officers.

But the task force is also in need of more funding.

The task force received $106,974 in 2013 for prevention and planning, and in September, NKY Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention received $125,000 from the U.S Office of Drug Control Policy to provide evidence-based substance abuse prevention.

“The community is pulling together to find funding for treatment,” said Bonnie Hedrick, a task force member and coordinator of the substance abuse prevention agency.

The task force hopes to collect $2.5 million to address the immediate goals in its 2015-16 plan.

Group members say they have heard repeatedly that families don’t know where to turn for help. So, as a solution, plans for a wrap-around network of guidance and support for families and addicts is part of the plan for 2015-16. The task force estimates 100 people or families will be served in one year, the plan says, with an expected 80 percent sobriety at one year with treatment and support.

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Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com

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